OC Review: Andrea at Pelican Hill

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 10.32.12 PMChef Luigi Fineo at Andrea (photo by Eugene Garcia, OC Register)

Andrea is gloriously old-fashioned and grand, with soaring indoor palms and oversized clamshell booths. The tables are covered with ultra-fine linens and heavy sterling silverware. Tables are spaced far apart, providing an unparalleled sense of privacy. Fittingly, amid the monumental Tuscan architecture of Pelican Hill, Andrea is Italian.

A new chef came onboard a little more than a year ago. Luigi Fineo, who is from Southern Italy, has completely transformed the kitchen. There is a seriousness and polish to his cooking that was previously lacking here. I think it’s safe to say that no other Italian restaurant in Orange County is cooking at the same high level of refinement as Fineo’s team at Andrea.

One of the dishes that best encapsulates the restaurant’s new spirit is a gorgeous burrata cheese and heirloom tomato terrine with basil emulsion. The classic flavors of a Caprese salad are transformed into something ethereal, employing a burrata so light and tomatoes so deliciously sweet that I have to remind myself what I’m eating. Or maybe the more emblematic dish here is the seared scallop that’s paired with crescenza, a very young, very milky and extremely white cow’s milk cheese from Italy that melts on the tongue like butter, chased with a single salty bite of speck, Italy’s most under-appreciated ham…

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 10.34.20 PMOctopus with white beans at Andrea (photo by Eugene Garcia, OC Register)

We’re enjoying a quiet conversation and a 2008 carignano de sulcis from Sardinia, anticipating the arrival of our pastas, when a large, gregarious waiter bum-rushes our table like he’s the mayor of Toronto, with a cornball grin on his face and an extra sparkle in his eyes. He’s delivering our pastas.

“Bucatini!” he shouts at the top of his lungs, prompting everyone in the dining room to turn and look. He bounces to the other side of our table, then yells “Gnocchi with langoustine!” He keeps going, like a bull in a china shop, “Lobster tortelli!” he bellows inappropriately.

At this point he finally notices the shock on our faces. “Sorry,” he says with a laugh, clapping his hands. “I thought you might not be able to hear me because of the guitar.”

On each of my visits, there has been a musician playing acoustical guitar in the corner, and it is lovely. Never has it been so intrusive that anyone needed to shout.

Once the clown act leaves the room, the air pressure settles back to normal. “That was weird,” someone says…

This is obviously just a synopsis. Want more? You can read my full review and see the star rating along an extensive slide show by photographer Eugene Garcia in this week’s OC Register. Subscriptions are required to read Register content in the week that it is originally published. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can simply buy a Day Pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access to the entire OC Register archive. Or you can be cheap and lazy and wait for a week, at which point the story will be free online. I also invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

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